I often see owners continuously tell their dogs some sequence of “off, no, stop, don’t eat that, stop barking,” and the list goes on. Not only is this exhausting for owners, but saying “NO” isn’t teaching dogs what we would like them to do instead- we leave them to figure it out on their own (which they do not know how to do). This can make training pretty frustrating for us and our dogs. Here we are yelling at them to stop doing whatever they’re doing, and they’re left confused about what they are doing wrong. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve had to occasionally catch myself multiple times doing this with my own dog (but aren’t I a dog trainer?!). No one is perfect and it takes a lot of practice for humans to get out of the habit of telling our dogs “no.” Instead of focusing on what we don’t want our dogs to do, we should be rewarding all of the behaviors we want them to do. How do we do this?
Pay attention to your dog and reward all of those behaviors you like. Bring out the clicker or use your marker word (yes!) to let your dog know you want them to be doing more of something. Four paws on the floor? Click and treat. They see a dog and don’t bark? Click and treat. This can be a very fun game for your dog, they are being given praise and yummy treats and your dog is performing the behaviors you want! The more times you practice this fun game and reward the behaviors you like, the more often your dog will perform those behaviors.
Ignore the behaviors you don’t like. Your dog jumps on you, you walk away or turn your face away from them. Do not touch your dog or talk to them when they jump on you-this rewards them for jumping up because they get attention from you and physical touch (how fun!). Ignoring does not apply to behaviors based on fear and/or anxiety, stay tuned for more information on how to address fear based behavior (barking, lunging, growling, etc.).
Some of the work is training, and some of it is management. If you are struggling with your dog jumping up on people, there might need to be some steps you need to take to manage this. As a tiny puppy, jumping is often seen as fun and cute so many owners and strangers who greet the dog, reinforce this behavior. Then the dog turns into a full-grown 70 lb golden retriever and all of a sudden, you want them to stop jumping on people. Why would your dog stop jumping up when he’s been rewarded so many times before he was 70 lbs? He has no way of knowing what you would like him to do instead because you haven’t taught him. Jumping is instantly reinforcing, once those paws hit the human-they are rewarded with attention. So, it’s your job as their owner to prevent them from jumping up on guests as they walk into the house with management tools such as a baby gate or having them on leash (this may not apply to fearful dogs-again stay tuned). Once they do a nice sit, click and treat, or reward them by petting them. If they jump up again-the baby gate or leash allows you to take a step back from the dog and allows them to try again.
Why we don’t punish behaviors
It’s also important to talk about the reality that some people use positive punishment methods to end a dog’s behavior that they don’t like. You can definitely suppress the behavior with positive punishment methods (prong collars, choke chains, shock collars, etc) but it doesn’t solve the cause of the behavior and it also can result in a dog becoming fearful. Again, let’s use jumping as an example. A positive punishment method would be to knee your dog every time they jump on you (I hope you don’t do this, but if you do-I encourage you to try the methods mentioned above). Sure, your dog’s no longer jumping up, but they now are likely afraid of you and find you to be unpredictable as a result of the pain caused from hitting them with your knee. In my opinion, this is also abusive and can really damage the relationship you have with your dog. I don’t know about you, but my dog is my companion and I want him to like being around me-not find me to be scary.
This all sounds simple right? Of course it’s not! Training your dog to perform the behaviors you like in order to extinguish behaviors you don’t like takes time and practice. Dedicate 10-15 minutes a day working with your dog and rewarding those behaviors you want to see more of. It will pay off!